Homebush Bay Remediation

About this Item
SpeakersNagle Mr Peter; Scully Mr Carl
BusinessQuestions Without Notice


Mr NAGLE: I ask the Minister for Public Works and Services what action the Government is taking to clean up contamination in Homebush Bay.

Mr SCULLY: Honourable members will be aware that the properties adjoining Homebush Bay along the Rhodes Peninsula were once the site of chemical manufacturing. A 1988 study identified that sediments in Homebush Bay are contaminated by dioxins. The contamination has originated from a chemical production plant on the Rhodes Peninsula formerly owned and operated by a company initially known as Timbrol Ltd, later known as Union Carbide (Australia) Ltd and currently called Lednez Industries (Australia) Ltd, with the dioxin having leached into the bay. This has resulted, among other things, in a fishing ban being placed on the bay. While the bay and the adjacent land are not Olympic sites, they are less than two kilometres from the main Olympic venues and the bay will play an important role in transporting athletes and officials to the Games.

In the past two years the Government has conducted an extensive and expert investigation of the condition of the bay. This has provided a detailed understanding of its physical characteristics, the nature and extent of the contaminants and the range of options to address the problem. I am pleased to advise the House that as a result of that work the Government has decided that Homebush Bay will be remediated. The Government has approved spending of $21 million for a massive clean-up, which will be the first of its kind in the world. New technology recently developed in Australia means that the operation will remediate the water and land areas in a way that was not considered possible until recently. The clean-up will establish New South Wales as the world leader in dioxin remediation. It will provide a safe, clean bay for the eyes of the world in the year 2000. More important, it will provide a safe, clean bay for the people of New South Wales - an enduring community legacy.

In addition, at the same time an adjacent 5.5 hectares land site owned by Pendal Nominees Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of Bankers Trust Funds Management Ltd, will be cleaned. The Government effectively faced four basic options with regard to Homebush Bay. The first option was to do nothing. Whilst some have seriously advocated this action as the best course because it would not involve disturbing the sediments, the Government does not believe it can be justified on environmental or social grounds. Option two was to remove and seal, which would have involved extracting the contaminated dioxin and securing it elsewhere. The Government does not believe that this option, which would basically involve moving the problem from one place to another, could seriously be countenanced.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is far too much audible conversation in the Chamber. If the
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honourable member for Hawkesbury wishes to conduct a conversation he should do so outside the Chamber.

Mr SCULLY: Option three involves covering or capping the contaminated sediments in place. Until recently this would probably have been the best possible solution. Nevertheless, it would have had the disadvantage of keeping the contaminants in the bay. It would also have required long-term monitoring. The Government has rejected this option in the light of emerging technology which presents an exciting remove-and-destroy capability. The fourth option involves removing the sediments, extracting the concentrated contaminants and destroying them. The technology has been developed by two Australian companies. The Government and Bankers Trust jointly funded a feasibility study using sediment samples from the bay.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is still far too much audible conversation in the Chamber.

Mr SCULLY: I do not think members opposite are interested in this matter. Testing has indicated that the technology works and could be successfully utilised in remediating the sediments. The process is expensive. However, the clean-up is an important task, and the Government believes that it could not reject a permanent solution that was feasible and able to be responsibly financed. I am pleased to advise the House that the cost of the project has been reduced by cooperation between the Government and BT. Bankers Trust and the Government have agreed to jointly clean up their respective sites, bringing economies of scale advantages to both parties. As I have indicated, the Government’s share of the total clean-up will be $21 million. The Government believes that Lednez Industries, as the current owner of the former Union Carbide site, has a responsibility to contribute to the Government’s cost of remediating the bay. Further discussions in this regard are continuing with the company.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Northcott is already on three calls to order. The Chair will take further action if he continues to talk.

Mr SCULLY: Discussions to date have included the possibility of Lednez Industries offering its site to a remediator or developer who could join the Government and Bankers Trust and have all three sites remediated concurrently. It should be noted that Lednez Industries has contained the dioxin contaminated sediments on its site in a sarcophagus, which until recently was the most advanced technology.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Eastwood to order.

Mr SCULLY: If members opposite want to know what a sarcophagus is, I am happy to take a bunch of them to Homebush Bay and bury them in the site where Lednez Industries buried its dioxin some years ago. In addition, the Government has decided to erect a 1,200 metre impermeable seawall as part of the remediation strategy to prevent the possibility of any further leaching from the Lednez site into the bay. As several consortia are now believed to have technology that enables contaminants to be destroyed, the Government will conduct an expression of interest process for the remediation and then call for formal tenders for the project. This process will be open to companies both in Australia and overseas, including those that may have alternative technology to destroy the contaminants.

The Government expects all consultation processes to be completed before the end of 1998 and remediation to commence by early 1999. This should enable sufficient time for the clean-up to be completed before the Olympics. As part of the approval process for a clean-up, there will be a full environmental impact statement, involving extensive public consultation and allowing all practical contamination destruction methods to be fully considered and assessed. Site remediation is expected to be worth about $32.5 billion around the world. If an Australian company is selected as the preferred remediator, this will reap enormous benefits for New South Wales and Australia. It will create a large number of jobs directly involved in the clean-up. But they are secondary considerations. Most important, Homebush Bay is one of the State’s most polluted waterways and is a blight on our environmental record. That will change as a result of the work undertaken by this Government. Homebush Bay will once again become a waterway of which we can all be proud, and it will reclaim its legitimate place as part of the best harbour in the world.